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While the 911 center serves as the only public safety answering point in the county and is required to field animal control, police and fire calls in Roanoke Rapids, County Attorney Glynn Rollins argues “it is equally true that (the city) is required to include some proportional share of the local cost of access (to the center) in its municipal … budgets.” 

In the appellate brief filed Thursday with the North Carolina State Court of Appeals, Rollins wrote that the county has no constitutional or statutory authority or duty to absorb any portion of the city’s budget for municipal animal control, police and fire protection services. “For the reasons set forth above (the county) respectfully requests that the court affirm the denial of (the city’s) motion for summary judgment and the entry of summary judgment in favor of the (county).”

Roanoke Rapids City Attorney Geoffrey Davis sent his brief to the court of appeals earlier this month and is asking its judges to reverse a superior court judge’s January ruling concerning 911 funding.

In that January 4 ruling Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Foster wrote that the city is obligated to pay a portion of the county’s personnel costs for operating the county 911 center.

At issue, Rollins wrote, is whether units of local government that operate public safety answering points must do so without financial support from the other units of local government in the PSAP service area, all of whom are required by law to participate in a 911 system. “The trial court properly concluded as a matter of law that with respect to the costs of a PSAP that must be funded from local revenues — that is to say, those costs that cannot be paid for with distributions from the state 911 Fund. A PSAP operator is entitled to remuneration from all other local governments in the PSAP service area that depend upon that PSAP in order to comply with their statutory mandate to participate in a 911 system.”

Rollins wrote that public safety such as animal control, law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services must either operate a PSAP or have access to the call taking services of a PSAP. “Notwithstanding this statutory requirement, no unit of local government — neither a county nor a municipality — has direct statutory authority to levy property taxes or borrow money for the establishment and operation of a PSAP, or to gain access to a PSAP …”

However, Rollins wrote, local governments do have the ability to fund that mandate as part of the cost of providing their respective public safety services. “This becomes clear after an analysis of the constitutional and statutory restrictions on the levy and expenditure of property taxes, limitations on the allowed purposes for borrowing by local governments, and the statutory authority of local governments to provide various public safety services.”

Rollins argues in the brief that because a PSAP operator must provide call taking for all local governments in the PSAP service area, it does not mean that the PSAP operator must bear all local cost of providing call taking. “The statutory mandate placed upon all units of local government to participate in a 911 system imposes responsibility for bearing a portion of the local cost of participating in that 911 system as a part of the cost of providing their underlying public safety services.”

Rollins argues in the brief that a PSAP operator cannot be required to underwrite that portion of a PSAP users public safety budget associated with the cost of mandated participation in a 911 system. “As can be gleaned from the earlier discussion regarding limitations on the levy of property taxes, absent an interlocal agreement for a joint undertaking, a unit of local government does not have authority to appropriate and spend its own tax revenues in support of the public safety agencies of another unit of local government. “Even if property tax revenues were available, both counties and cities are limited to exercising only those powers that are expressly conferred by the General Assembly.”

Wrote the county attorney: “There is no statutory authority for one unit of local government — either county or city — to underwrite any portion of the cost of another unit of government's public safety services.”

Rollins wrote he believed the trial court correctly determined that in the absence of an interlocal agreement, a PSAP user must contribute to the annual personnel budget of the PSAP provider based upon the percentage of total call volume attributable to the PSAP user. “Before the advent of enhanced 911 services, each unit of local government that provided public safety services bore the cost of its own call center for receiving emergency calls and dispatching the required public safety response to its citizens. Those days are long gone, but the financial obligation to participate in a 911 system as a necessary part of providing public safety services remains. 

“If the plaintiff-appellant is allowed to avoid its financial obligation with regard to participation in a 911 system, the associated cost of that essential mandate in providing municipal animal control, police and fire department protection will be unlawfully laid at the feet of county taxpayers.”